Venice is an incredible city. Nothing can compare to the complex system of canals, alleys, galleries and small squares that compose this unique agglomerate. Sometimes though, we feel the need to get out of this labyrinthic complex and to acquire a different point of view, admiring the city and the lagoon from high ground.
Here is part of the magic of the city. From the top, the town shows herself as a tumultuous sea of red roofs, pointed by churches, palaces, and fortresses. Beyond this incredible urban landscape, the Venice lagoon reflects the color of the sky, and the various islands stand out from the mist. San Michele, with its walled perimeter separating the land of the living from the land of the dead, Torcello, with its bold, round, tower bell and its raw nature surroundings, Burano, with its leaning tower.
We created a list of the best elevated spots that are open to the public. Some of them are free, some of them need to be booked in advance. Let’s explore with us 7 delicious spots to explore Venice from the sky!
1.) Fondaco dei Turchi
The most recent viewpoint of our list (almost 100 years more recent than the second one, San Marco’s Campanile) is also the most convenient and easy to access. Situated on the right side of Rialto’s Bridge (in Sestriere San Marco), Fondaco dei Turchi is a luxury department store. If you wanted to go to Venice to buy French designer clothes, that’s the place where to do your shopping. If you prefer to buy these things at home, however, you can take the elevator and reach the fourth floor. The panoramic terrace that runs on the side of the canal is, simply put, the best view of Grand Canal we could ever imagine. Rialto’s Bridge is directly underneath, with its immaculate white color shining under the sun. The panorama is terrific, with several towers raising in the sky. And the best part? It’s free. There is also a booking system, but we never faced any waiting line to access the terrace.
2.) San Giorgio
The best view of San Marco is not in San Marco. And that’s a fact. Let’s be clear. There are some fantastic views in San Marco, but they are mostly related to the square itself. To admire Doge’s Palace and to view San Marco as thousands of ambassadors did for the first time when they reached La Serenissima (the name of the Republic of Venice) we had to head to San Giorgio island, just on the other side of Giudecca’s Canal. The bell tower of the church, San Giorgio Maggiore, offers a privileged view over San Marco’s square, Doge’s Palace and Riva Degli Schiavoni. On the right, we could admire Castello and the gardens of Biennale, while on the left there is Giudecca Island and its associated canal. Simply put, this is the best viewpoint for San Marco, there is no queue at the entrance, and it’s also much cheaper than San Marco’s Campanile.
3.) San Marco’s Bell Tower (or San Marco’s Campanile)
We just explored San Giorgio, so why do we feel the need to recommend San Marco’s Campanile? Because this is the highest point in town. There are no other places where you can get such a comprehensive, panoramic view over the city and its islands. The tower has ancient origins, with the first foundation dating back to the ninth century. In 1902, however, the Campanile collapsed completely. By pure luck, its debris did not touch the church, but the tower, after 1000 years, was reduced to ruins. The government decided to rebuild it in the same style as the previous one, with new material and reinforcements. However, the original magic was lost forever. Keep that in mind when you take the elevator to reach its top.
4.) Clock tower
The first arrival to San Marco’s square is breathtaking. The church on one side and the perfect symmetry of the other three leave everyone viewing it speechless. Once one gets accustomed to it, it’s possible to start noticing the different particulars of the square. On the right side facing the church, there is a curious tower. It’s the Civic clock tower, built in 1496. It was crucial to have a clock (outside of the church’s control) to regulate the life of Venetians.
We will speak in details about the fantastic features of this Renaissance gem in another post. A visit here is highly recommended independently from your interest in mechanics, as the view from the top of the tower, nearby the bronze bell, is spectacular. San Marco is entirely visible, and the view over the square underneath is among the best ones you could get unless you own an apartment there (and in that case, lucky you!).
5.) Torcello bell tower
The island of Torcello is attracting more people every year. Tourists flock here to admire the fantastic mosaics of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. It’s also possible to climb the bell tower nearby for a small fee. From the top of the tower, we could get a perfect view of Burano and its leaning tower (which can’t be accessed) and the lagoon. Torcello is mostly wild, this is the only place where we could see how the Venetian bay may have looked like before the advent of industrialization. If you are planning to visit Burano, we highly recommend to add Torcello in the tour and to climb the bell tower to get a fantastic view over the wild side of Venice.
6.) San Marco’s Terrace
We stay in San Marco’s square for one last look to this wonder from a third point of view. It may look redundant, but it’s not. This is among the best architectural compositions humankind ever created, we could never get bored of admiring it. From inside San Marco’s Cathedral, there is the possibility to access the terrace. Three main reasons should make this visit mandatory for anybody. First, the access to the top floor of the cathedral allows a privileged point of view over the mosaics of the ceiling, as we will discuss in another post. Second, the original bronze sculpture known as “The Horses of San Marco”, part of the spoils of war Venezia brought back from the sack of Constantinople they perpetrated in 1204. Third, the terrace outside offers a beautiful view over Doge’s Palace and the square. No visit to Venice can be considered complete without a visit to San Marco’s Terrace.
7.) Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Almost unknown to most of the tourists, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo does not reach the height of San Marco’s Campanile, nor it has an open view such as the Fondaco dei Turchi or the Clock Tower. Its unique property is its impressive structure. Built in 1499, this spiral staircase, created by an uninterrupted series of small arches, offers a delicious spot for fantastic photos.
The background, with the red roofs and San Marco’s Campanile, completes the picture. It’s a little unknown gem, and it’s well worth a visit.
Let’s be clear. Venice might well be the most incredible, scenic and picture-perfect city in the world. Our recommendation is to spend time here and explore it from multiple points of view. From the boat, from the street, and from the top. It’s always the same place, but it will look completely different every time. It’s part of the magic of this enchanted town.